Editor’s note: In this three-part report, Inman News catches up with a few of the latest developments to cross our desks. We examine a new home valuation and lead generation service, a site where sellers proactively look for buyers, and a new service among many that now offer a rich multimedia home-shopping experience. (Read Part 1 and Part 3.)
In many communities across the nation, it’s a home buyer’s market. The inventory of for-sale homes nationwide has risen about 35 percent, prices have dropped about 2 percent and sales have fallen about 14 percent in the past year, according to National Association of Realtors statistics.
Buyers are in the driver’s seat, with an abundance of for-sale homes to peruse, and it can be a waiting game for sellers.
BuyerHunt.com takes a different approach to the market: Let the sellers do the searching.
The site allows prospective home buyers to create a free profile that describes the home they are seeking. That profile is stored in a searchable database, and sellers can view the profiles and submit “Virtual Fliers” via the Internet to those buyers to gauge interest in specific properties that fit their profiles. When a prospective buyer responds to a flier, the seller receives that user’s e-mail address, though the contact information for buyers remains anonymous until that point.
John “Jake” Cunningham, vice president of product management at BuyerHunt.com, said the site is like a “reverse MLS (multiple listing service) of sorts.” With standard real estate Web sites “the buyer goes to the Web site and searches for properties. There was no flip side to this. It just didn’t exist,” he said.
Cunningham is a licensed real estate professional in Arizona, though he said he is no longer working as an agent.
The site, which launched Oct. 3, is free to buyers and sellers in the beta phase, said Philip Mikal, BuyerHunt.com co-founder and vice president of technology who also works as Internet technology consultant. The site launched in Phoenix and there are plans for a gradual rollout in other markets, he said.
Prospective buyers can select a price range, ZIP code areas, property type, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, room features (such as kitchen island), property features (such as golf course, gated, waterfront, horses), lot size, year built, roof type, number of levels, and heating and cooling systems in their buyer profile, and they can also enter free-form comments.
The virtual fliers submitted by sellers include up to six pictures and a description of the property’s attributes.
Mikal said there are hundreds of profiles in the system so far, and the company has launched a marketing campaign that includes print, television, online and direct-mail ads. “Most buyers are in the Greater Phoenix area, as that is where we are targeting our initial efforts,” he said.
Agents in the area have had a “mixed to positive” reaction to the site, Mikal said. “Agents who aren’t as excited about the site have commented they don’t like any of the new ‘Real Estate 2.0’ Web sites and are afraid that we will turn out to be a discount brokerage. We don’t have any plans to take business away from agents and are trying to make BuyerHunt.com as friendly as possible for Realtors. In fact, we think we are a compliment to the existing real estate processes.”
Mikal said, “We’re trying as much as possible to engage the Realtor community in this. We don’t necessarily see BuyerHunt as a replacement for the MLS or trying to cut anyone out of the business. We think this is an augment to existing models and existing real estate transactions.”
The Web site states that buyers and sellers can create buyer profiles and virtual fliers whether or not they are working with real estate professionals, but also states, “to protect against unwanted legal problems and complications, BuyerHunt strongly encourages both buyers and sellers to consult with real estate professionals.”
Real estate agents can enter buyer and seller profiles at the site for their clients or for themselves, Mikal said, and the site asks for users to identify whether they are agents. There is potential for sellers to abuse the system by spamming prospective buyers with properties that don’t match their profile, and there are plans to develop a flagging system or automated solution to this problem, he said.
“We are exploring some different revenue models,” Mikal said, such as partnerships with brokerage companies. The site “always will be free for buyers,” he also said.
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